APERTURE MAGAZINE ANTHOLOGY: The Minor White Years (1952–1976)

By Elia Maqueda. October 19, 2012

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Aperture Magazine, first issue
Credits
Aperture Magazine, first issue

It’s beautiful to be present at the birth of things. All human beings are curious, always, about the origin, about the first steps of what started to be where before there was nothing. For this and many other reasons, some of us have a weakness for books that reveal the origins of things. Such is the case with Aperture Magazine Anthology — The Minor White Years (1952–1976), edited by Peter C. Bunnell and the Aperture Foundation on the occasion of the magazine's sixtieth anniversary.

In the 1930s, in that country flanked by two long coasts crossed by a road of deserts and mountains, photography started to surface from underneath props and studios. Photojournalism was born, and with it a new way of telling the history and the stories shaped by the convulsive world that grew and died all around it. From the studio portraits at the service of families in their Sunday best it moved to the tremendous covers of Life magazine, the documentary work of the Farm Security Administration and the fight for independence in the shape of agencies and cooperatives.

With this background, and following the trail of Alfred Stieglitz and Camera Work –a magazine as important as ephemeral–, Minor White, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Barbara Morgan attended in 1952 a photography conference at the Aspen Institute. Like the members of a secret club, they assembled in conclave and, as many other secret clubs throughout history, decided to create a magazine. Behind Aperture there was a group of people who foresaw, saw and experienced a change: a new view on photography that in the 1950s started to move further away from photojournalism. It reached the universities and entered the guts of those wishing to devote their lives to that other art, the one that did not involve a brush and a canvas but wasn’t either just the physics of the refracting lens. Aperture, somehow, finally opened the lens in full: it launched photography into the streets inside brown paper envelopes with handwritten labels and ended up hanging it from on the walls of museums around the world.

Aperture is not only a photography magazine. It was also born with the intention of talking about it over and over again. And it wasn't easy. During its first years, which we are dealing with today, we find more text than pictures. All its co-founders contributed with some great essays, many of them collected in this book. When the lack of economic resources forced them to skimp on paper quality, White, who was the magazine's editor for those first 25 years, preferred –maybe because he was a writer in addition to a photographer– to include less images and more text. But, after those first years with few but loyal subscribers, they reached a greater audience and, to a great extent, Aperture ended up contributing to the creation of portfolios (which did not exist as such beforehand) and the opening of galleries and photography departments in museums and schools.

Minor White was, according to Peter C. Bunnell, an honest person, who also had a vocation for teaching. He was one of those teachers you remember for the rest of your life. Someone who asked his students to take a picture of a hand clapping and who had a device in his home to sequence the images he later included in each issue. Because a magazine is a big jigsaw, a house of cards that keeps its balance thanks to the criteria and effort of those who make it. But a magazine needs the pair of eyes of its readers and the pair of hands that, taking the index finger to the tip of the tongue, want to turn pages and pages for years and years.

Magazine editors deserved a tribute and they have now received it in the figure of Minor White. There should always be people with determination and time to curate contents and show them to us in a slideshow with direct connection from their minds to ours.
 

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